College is full of idealists spreading their unscathed wings free from the safe refuge of the suburbs. Their inexperience presents easy prey for crooked opportunists. The problem isn’t generosity, but a combination of gullibility and kindness that drags that generosity down to stupidity.
When I first read about Eric Lannon allegedly making his way down the East Coast, hustling young college students with phony grandiose stories, I was shocked, not by Lannon himself, but by the extent to which people would trust the unbelievable words of a complete stranger.
According to victims, Lannon approached them, dressed in a button-down shirt, shorts and unruly hair, a far cry from the stereotypical image of a hustler. Lannon spun elaborate stories about losing his wallet in a taxi, having to bail a friend out of jail, suing his parents for his trust fund or being part of his father’s lucrative business.
How believable is it that a guy comes up to you, tells you about how much money he has and then proceeds to try to bum a drink? Later on he tells you, how he lost his wallet in his cab, so he can’t check into a hotel and needs to catch an airplane tomorrow. All the while, he rambles about how he’ll wire you $2,000 when he gets the chance.
The appropriate response would be, “this guy is clearly a pathological liar, why would I want him near my personal belongings?” The real surprise was that in this story, the person felt he was being deceived and proceeded not to do anything about it. He even allowed Lannon to spend the night at his house.
It’s strange to advocate stranger danger in this particular venue, but in these stories, you can tell this elementary school philosophy was lost on them. In this case, Lannon seems to just be a petty thief with only one story about him stealing iPods.
Con artists often exploit empathy for their own gain. Helping people is fine and the world is better for it. However, altruism doesn’t mean common sense should go out the window. It’s important not to bend over backwards so far you put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
We live in a city. Crime exists. The second you start walking around with your eyes glued to the floor saying you’ll help everyone is the second you get ripped off.